As authentic as it gets on Chicago's South Side.
Remarkable is the dive bar able to cram over 100 years of history into a tiny footprint in a residential area, so much depth housed in such a small space. Shinnick’s Pub in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood is one such dive bar, a thumbprint of a building that can trace its roots back to construction during the 1880s in preparation for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Even more remarkably, after ownership bounced around a bit after its construction, post-Prohibition, Shinnick’s Pub has been continuously owned and operated by the namesake Shinnick family now going on three generations strong.
The Shinnick’s Pub story is a deep one, the Shallow family having owned the building for most of the time after its construction until the enactment of Prohibition. Upon repeal, ownership eventually found its way to George Sr. & Mary Shinnick in 1938, the start of family operation that can be found in the form of grandkids and great-grandkids behind the bar still today. Ownership passed to son George Jr. and his wife Celine in 1966, the business almost literally their birthright after being born and raised in the apartment behind Shinnick’s Pub. Conveniently for the purposes of family dive bar operation, George Jr. and Celine welcomed nine children, the collective ownership group for the dive bar today.
Because of the Bridgeport area’s strong connection to the political fortunes of Chicago, including home to one Richard M. Daley, the dive bar’s status as community gathering spot earned it the nickname Little City Hall. A poster on one wall commemorates Daley and that connection to the political past, one that no doubt continues today in some respect. Beyond politics, the dive bar’s proximity to the home park of the Chicago White Sox earns it decent crowds before and after home games, serving as one of the Bridgeport staples for southside fans.
The space itself feels like a dive bar at first glance, wood paneling extended outside to the building’s exterior wall, brown-painted slats underneath a short shingled roof. Along the adjacent wall, the brick building has been painted green, an homage, naturally, to the dive bar’s Irish heritage. Three small windows not much bigger than a porthole provide a bit of natural light, a simple rectangular sign over the middle window with the name of the bar inscribed. For first-time visitors, note that the real door can be found along the ‘side’ of the building rather than under the shingled roof.
Inside, the color scheme continues, green painted wood slats running just under halfway up the walls throughout, clean white paint making up the rest of the surface. The name of the bar is painted along the front wall just over a tribute to the 2005 White Sox World Series win. But the back bar is the most halting visual element inside Shinnick’s Pub, to be sure, an ornately carved masterpiece of a bar that features wide columns and a massive mirror. The back bar embodies the Shinnick’s Pub history in microcosm, the Brunswick-Balke-Collendar piece one of the few left in existence and erected on site during the construction of the building. The ancient cash register along the bar’s shelf adds to the obvious history found behind the bar.
Though updates have been made throughout, including what looks to be either a refinished or entirely replaced floor, the green tin roof over head captures well the history and age of the space. A similar pattern and color scheme can be found along some of the walls throughout the space where wood paneling has given way to stamped designs. The white walls are not cluttered and rather include well-distributed decorations that range from typical dive bar mirrors and neon signs to framed pictures of locals. In addition to the photos found within Shinnick’s itself, the Shinnick’s Pub web site features a set of historical photos that show generations of drinkers enjoying a beer at the same bar in the same building.
The rear of the space is illuminated by rope lighting and opaque glass block windows, this somewhat separate room featuring a handful of tables for overflow seating and the bar’s electronic dart board. Irish flags drape from the drop ceiling here, the area also home to the ATM and digital jukebox. Naturally, White Sox posters and signs can be found sporadically throughout Shinnick’s Pub and it’s easy to envision this back room as overflow seating for crowds heading to or from a home game.
The Shinnick family created, maintains and hopefully forever operates a true Bridgeport institution, the kind of neighborhood pub so organic to a neighborhood that it would be hard to picture the area without its presence. Thankfully, nine grandkids and a host of great-grandchildren later, the prospects for continued family ownership seem strong, a tribute to the longevity earned through a devotion to the local community and an immediately welcoming, comfortable atmosphere all presided over by one of the most beautiful back bars in Chicago.